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Vice in the Tri-Cities: Current and former police officers say vices have changed

Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 10:19 a.m. CST
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(Photo provided)
A classroom at Batavia High School from circa 1955 is seen. Dress codes have changed greatly since the 1950s.
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Glenn McConnaughay was the Geneva Police chief from 1949 to 1972. McConnaughay is now a resident at The Holmstad in Batavia.

Glenn McConnaughay said he doesn’t envy today’s police officers.

Although he served with the Geneva Police Department for 23 years and often worked beats alone, he said today’s police have a lot more to worry about than he did when he started his law enforcement career in 1949.

If there were vices in Geneva back then, such as prostitution, gambling or drugs, McConnaughay said they usually were well under the radar.

“Drugs – that was kind of starting up when I retired,” he said. “There was very little before that.”

McConnaughay said when he started on the force, Geneva was considered a “country town,” with a population of about 4,000 to 5,000 people. The police force was made up of five full-time officers and grew to 14 officers by the time he left in 1972.

There were no special units, and officers often worked alone. McConnaughay remembers driving through alleys and looking for broken windows, which is how police ended up catching some burglars. He also remembers chasing souped-up cars, physically brawling with people who picked fights with police and trying to cozy up to a Chicago gang by attending one of its meetings.

A lot has changed in the 40-plus years since McConnaughay retired, even when it comes to crimes that are considered to be somewhat minor, such as vice crimes. Vice – by dictionary definition – means both “bad or immoral behavior or habits” and “a minor bad habit.” That could encompass issues involving alcohol, drugs, prostitution, gambling and petty theft.

Kane County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Pat Gengler said most of the vice police deal with today in the Tri-Cities and Kane County happens “behind closed doors.”

It’s not looking for a broken window to find a burglar. It’s not a prostitute standing on a street corner.

It’s not betting on a card game in the streets. It’s simply not as visible. But a larger population often brings a larger variety of crimes.

“Just the population in the last 15 years – the population density has completely changed,” he said.

With that, the drug culture has changed drastically, he said. People have access to a larger variety of drugs that are more accessible.

“When I think back to when I was in high school, you had marijuana and you had a little cocaine – nobody was doing heroin or meth,” Gengler said. “Now things have changed so much. You have synthetic marijuana being sold in potpourri packages and all these designer drugs that are out there. Heroin’s prevalence in this area is such a big difference. That would not have been an issue back then.”

McConnaughay agrees.

“The drug problem – that’s the worst thing in police now. People do things they probably wouldn’t do if they weren’t on drugs,” he said. “[Police today] have to deal with a lot more than we did.”

Alcohol problems also persist, but the issues are far different from the days of Prohibition. City officials and police still struggle with issues related to alcohol, such as fights, over-serving, public intoxication, drunken drivers and underage drinkers, but it’s now a matter of regulating a legal substance.

St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina, who recently formed St. Charles’ first liquor commission, said the new commission is working to curb some of that behavior.

“It’s our feeling that a lot of this stuff happens late at night,” he said. “I don’t want to roll the sidewalks up at 10 o’clock in St. Charles. ... What’s wrong is when you’re irresponsible. Alcohol is not illegal – now it’s legal. The question is, can we create a responsible environment or not?”

He said in the coming months, the commission will work to establish a new permit system. He said liquor establishments would be able to stay open until midnight and would have the option to purchase a permit to stay open until 1 a.m. or a permit to stay open until 2 a.m. Rogina said those permits are privileges that can be revoked, and the idea is to establish a further sense of responsibility for liquor establishments to not violate any liquor laws.

“We’ve listened to the people in our community,” he said. “Sometimes there are excesses downtown and sometimes things get out of hand, but we want to bring in a sense of responsibility and have a fun environment.”

Even vices that haven’t been considered crimes have changed a lot through the years. For example, back in the 1950s, girls couldn’t wear slacks to school and short skirts. A Batavia High School yearbook photo of the 1955 journalism club shows female students with long skirts that fall well below the knee – none of them are in shorts or pants.

“All the girls had to wear skirts or dresses and always had bobby socks, saddle shoes and loafers,” said Sandra Chalupa, who graduated from Batavia High School in 1955. “Boys has to wear a shirt, not just a plain, old T-shirt. And they had to wear belts.”

She said shorter skirts didn’t become popular until the 1960s, and girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks until the early 1970s. Chalupa said the school had very few problems with dress code violations, but a few belts were kept on hand in the school office.

Schools still have dress codes in place, but they’re not as stringent as they used to be. Batavia High School’s current dress code states, “modesty in dress is expected,” and goes on to say that bare torsos, revealing or immodest attire in the judgment of the staff will not be tolerated. The dress code bars strapless tops, spaghetti straps and stipulates that shorts must extend past a student’s fingertips when standing upright.

St. Charles North High School has a similar dress code. The school requires that students wear clothing that covers the shoulders, back, midriff, hips and lower thighs, according to the student handbook. Short skirts and high-cut shorts are not allowed, nor are low-cut or strapless tops that don’t have a shirt covering them.

Gambling is another so-called vice that has changed through the years. Historically, gamblers in the Tri-Cities would bet on local football games, according to newspaper articles. Video gambling today is legal in certain municipalities but hasn’t been legalized in the Tri-Cities.

Technology has changed many aspects of crime, including prostitution.

The Mann Act of 1910 was originally enacted to prevent forced prostitution and also made it illegal to transport women across state lines for prostitution. The book, “Prostitution: An Illustrated History” by Vern and Bonnie Bullough, published in 1978, states that by 1920, about 20 states “regarded habitual fornication as a punishable act and, in 16 states, a single act was enough to bring conviction. That made enforcement impossible.”

The act also made it illegal for men to talk to suspected prostitutes on streets and sidewalks, and men could not walk along the sidewalk with a prostitute. Enforcing the Mann Act sometimes led to other vices.

The book states, “Vice officers had to resort to dubious tactics to get a prostitute to commit herself, which opened up wide-scale bribery.”

Gengler said the computer age has made prostitutes more accessible to anyone with a smartphone or Internet connection.

He said that type of illegal activity is much more discreet because people no longer have to approach someone who is walking along a public street.

“People that may be inclined to do that don’t have to do that anymore,” he said.

Gengler said when it comes to crime and vice, police today are more active in trying to prevent crimes and reforming people who have abused vices, such as drugs or alcohol. In St. Charles, it used to be illegal to swim nude or semi-nude during the day in the Fox River. Today, it is illegal to swim in the Fox River within St. Charles city limits, said Kim Schult, records division manager with the St. Charles Police Department. Gengler said when the ordinance was written in the late 1800s, people were likely more worried about people not wearing clothing. He said the ordinance overlooked the dangers of swimming in the Fox River.

“I think now we have a better understanding that all this is tied together,” he said. “It’s not, ‘We gotta get rid of the drug problem because drugs are bad.’ We have a better understanding that all this stuff is part of a bigger picture. If you’ve got a drug problem, you see an increase in burglaries and stolen vehicles, and then you start having overdoses. It’s kind of a big chain. It all comes together.”

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